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Pair fresh autumn greens with grains for quick, hearty skillets |

Pair fresh autumn greens with grains for quick, hearty skillets

Quinoa and Chard Skillet
(Photo provided — Yvona Fast)


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It’s November. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini are long gone. But our garden is full of glorious fall greens. We still have spinach, arugula and lettuce for salads, and lots of cooking greens: kale, collards, Swiss chard, beet greens, bok choy, turnip greens, and all types of cabbage.

When most of us think of autumn vegetables, colorful roots and bright orange squash and pumpkins come to mind. But greens thrive during cool fall weather and so are plentiful this time of year.

Greens are chock full of essential nutrients that include vitamins, fiber, minerals and many not yet identified micronutrients we’re just learning about. Studies have shown that they may be a powerful weapon against aging and cancer. As a general rule, the darkest greens contain the most nutrients.

In summer greens make great salads. Fresh spinach or arugula is wonderful with fall fruit like apples, pears or concord grapes; garnish with nuts or sharp cheese like feta. Now that the weather is cooler hot meals are preferable. Tender greens like spinach, chard or beet greens are good stir-fried or sauteed. Tougher, older greens are great braised. Stronger flavored, assertive greens like collards or kale require longer cooking. Blanching them first and discarding the water can remove some of the bitterness.

Just as you might not appreciate a plain salad without dressing, cooked greens need to be dressed up to bring out their flavor. Most greens are excellent combined with eggs and cheese in a quiche or frittata. Other ways to dress up greens are by adding sweet, colorful vegetables like carrots or beets; topping them with nuts, seeds, or raisins; dressing with a mild vinegar, lime or lemon juice as you would a salad; and seasoning with garlic, onions, leeks or olives. Spicy seasonings, sharp cheese, and acids like tomatoes, lemon or vinegar, can mitigate the flavor of strong or bitter greens like mustards, collards or kale.

As the weather cools, we crave comfort food, and whole grains are just the ticket. We know whole grains are healthy. In fact, these complex carbohydrates that contain the germ and bran, not just the endosperm, can reduce your risk of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, constipation, as well as the risk for developing cancers of the stomach and colon. The fiber in whole grains keeps your digestive tract working smoothly. Fiber also makes you feel full, so you don’t eat as much. Because whole grains absorb into your body at a slower rate than refined grains, they prevent spikes in sugar and insulin, helping with diabetes management.

Whole grains provide important vitamins (B complex, E), minerals (like zinc, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper), fiber, proteins and oils. “Whole grains have this whole army of different phytonutrients that are doing just as much as fruits and veggies,” says Susan Moores, a Minneapolis nutritionist and a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. The best way to receive these nutritional benefits from whole grains is to eat them intact and unadulterated, before they’re processed and ground into flour.

When buying fall greens at the farmers’ market, buy only as much as you can use quickly; they must be eaten fresh. Select young, tender greens that are brightly colored, crisp, and never wilted. If you can’t use them the same day, store them in the refrigerator no more than a few days wrapped in plastic so they don’t dry out.

The most time-consuming part of using fresh greens is washing them. Most cook fairly quickly; spinach will be ready in less than five minutes while even tough greens like kale usually don’t need more than 15 or 20 minutes to cook.

Remember that greens decrease in volume when cooked; a pound of fresh greens will yield just two or three servings when cooked.

Autumn greens are great in soups, stews, casseroles, egg dishes like quiche or frittata. For soups and stews, add them liberally towards the end of the cooking time. For a quick main dish, sautee greens with onions and garlic in a little butter or bacon fat. Mix with chopped hard cooked eggs and/or diced cooked ham, and fold into a white sauce or cheese sauce.

Pair autumn greens with whole grains for healthy, tasty skillet suppers.

Arugula, Grain and Bean Skillet

This colorful dish is vegan and gluten free.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup millet (or barley, not GF; or quinoa)

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 or 2 cloves minced garlic (1 to 2 teaspoons)

1 1/2 cups diced tomatoes

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 bunch arugula (about 4 cups)

1 1/2 cups cooked beans, like garbanzo or black or kidney beans

1 or 2 apples, cored and diced, optional

1 Tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice and/or 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

Crumbled feta cheese for garnish, optional

Olives, for garnish, optional

Directions:

Place millet, water and salt in saucepan. Bring to a boil. Stir, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook until liquid is absorbed and grain is tender but still has a little bite, 10 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add tomatoes and cook another minute or two. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir in the reserved grain. Cook about two minutes to allow the barley to heat and absorb a little liquid from the tomatoes. Stir in arugula, beans and apple, if using. Cook one minute, for the arugula to wilt and the beans to heat through. Remove from heat; sprinkle with lemon juice and/or zest.

Leftovers? Make a grain salad. Add additional greens and a little more lemon juice or balsamic vinegar.

Serves three to four.

Quinoa and Chard Skillet

The mild flavor of quinoa pairs well with delicate chard.

Ingredients:

1 bunch (4 cups) fresh Swiss chard (4 cups)

1- 2 teaspoons olive oil

1 large onion

1 clove garlic

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup quinoa

1/2 cup broth or apple cider (for a sweeter dish)

1/2 cup water

1 bunch bok choy (2 cups)

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1 or 2 apples

1 cup cooked diced ham, chicken or turkey, optional

Directions:

Wash the chard. Separate leaves from stems. Chop the stems coarsely and set leaves aside.

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Peel and dice the onion; add. Wash chard stems, chop and add. Sprinkle with salt and cook until tender, about five minutes. Peel and mince garlic, and add.

Rinse quinoa in a mesh sieve under cool running water until water runs clear. Shake off excess liquid. Add to the skillet. Cook, stirring, 2 minutes until lightly golden.

Add broth and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer about 13 minutes.

Chop reserved chard greens coarsely, add to the skillet and cook until just wilted, two to four minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings, if needed.

For a heartier dish, cook 6 ounces of chicken breast in olive oil until meat is done; remove and proceed with onions. Add the diced, cooked chicken to the skillet when you add the chard. Or add 1 cup diced ham, or 1 cup toasted walnuts.

Serves two.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com, yvonawrite@yahoo.com or

on Facebook as

Author Yvona Fast.

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